A month from now, once the regular season concludes, I will sit down to fill out my official NHL ballot for the Hart Trophy, which is voted on by selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. My thoughts might change somewhat between now and then, but as we speak today here’s how I handicap the NHL’s MVP race:
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. Hard to believe there’s any way Malkin won’t win it this year, and deservedly so. With the best player in the world sidelined for the majority of the season, Malkin has lifted the Penguins with the best hockey of his career and helped them more than survive the absence of Sidney Crosby. Malkin’s 1.40 points-per-game average is easily the best in the league. And unreal.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s going to be interesting how the PHWA voters handle Stamkos. He’s having a monster season, challenging Malkin for the Art Ross as league's top point-getter, and he’s going to easily win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. He’s been a goal-scoring machine since Christmas (28 goals in 32 games). But his team isn’t sitting in a playoff spot. And traditionally that hurts the MVP chances of any player. Is that fair?
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. The Rangers are the true definition of a team. They have four lines and three defense pairs that all contribute on a nightly basis under the excellent tutelage of coach John Tortorella. But for any of that to happen, they need the all-world netminding of Lundqvist as their backbone. There has been no better goalie on the planet this season.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Honestly, where exactly would the Kings be without this dude this season? The Kings are 29th in the league in scoring. Their starting goalie is top five in the league, with a sparking 1.96 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. He’s their rock. He’s their MVP. He deserves to get some Hart talk thrown his way. Of course, like Stamkos, if the Kings miss the playoffs that will hurt his Hart chances.
Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils. The Russian sniper has come a long way, eh? He’s been dynamite this season for the Devils and he’s easily the biggest reason for their playoff standing. It took him a long time to find his comfort zone in New Jersey after signing that controversial, monster deal in summer 2010, but Devils fans are certainly happy for it now.
Honorable mentions: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia; Shea Weber, Nashville; Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, Ottawa; Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, Vancouver; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit; Pekka Rinne, Nashville.